An important correction!

I have mischaracterized Maryam Namazie! Fortunately, she has done an excellent job of correcting me:

I am an atheist not because the atheist movement cares about rights (it doesn’t) or has been overly supportive (which it hasn’t) but because I despise religion and Islam.

I have become an atheist – not because it’s pragmatic – but as a result of my battles against the Islamic Republic of Iran and Islamism. The Islamic regime of Iran recently wrote a piece on me called ‘Get to know this anti-religion woman’.

If I had to say what type of atheist I am, I’d say a militant atheist.

Brilliant! My listing could not possibly have been comprehensive, and anti-clericalism has long been a significant element in freethought. I should not have tried to shoehorn her into a poorly fitting category.

I’ll also join her in despising religion and Islam.

Comments

  1. says

    Hmm… Maryam Namazie’s name is one ‘m to n’ letter change from being an anagram of “A Ryan – me, a Nazi?’

    [Wow. I got home from a long weekend to find 5100 posts to Pharyngula to sort through, and your fresh contribution stood out as the dumbest of the batch: a pointless anagram that requires you to fudge a letter, a completely irrelevant comment, and an effort in the first post to turn a thread about Maryom Namazie into a thread about you. It was so stupid my banhammer twitched. But I will be nice. You are now confined to posting only on TZT. Stay there. By the way, if you post something this idiotic there, you will get the banhammer. It can only be stayed so long. -- pzm]

  2. brianengler says

    An important correction indeed, and nicely explained by Maryam. In general I find broad characterizations useful, but appreciate learning about important nuances such as these when they are explained clearly and concisely. Thanks to you both.

  3. says

    In current discussions, I found myself accused of arguing against circumcision because I was hateful of religion, implying there was no good reason “these militant atheists” could have.
    If anything, I’m hateful of religion because it does stuff like cutting off body parts for entirely fantastic reasons. Why are religious people apparently unable to comprehend this?
    I understand their reasons for believing, and those are often much more complex.

  4. says

    I am an atheist not because the atheist movement cares about rights (it doesn’t) or has been overly supportive (which it hasn’t) but because I despise religion and Islam.

    I would question the premise that the atheist movement (whatever that is) does not care about rights. I think it is more likely that said movement is an ill-defined entity to start with, whose members do actually and as a general rule care about rights and equality, and at least more so than the average punter.

  5. says

    I wonder how humanists came to be associated with “wishy-washy” types? One can be radical on humanism/human rights principles! Or is it all about how the words are used nowadays in the English language?

  6. slothrop1905 says

    I’ll admit, I don’t understand why this isn’t just argumentum ad consequentiam. Why wouldn’t it all fall under ‘I hate god’ Atheism? By the above definition, you can be a ‘militant atheist’ and still believe a god exists, you just despise everything associated with It. You can also be a ‘Humanist Atheist’ and believe strongly that God exists (I know many of these). Or are we ultimately only talking about the ‘Movement’ itself?

  7. says

    I wonder how humanists came to be associated with “wishy-washy” types?

    It’s because, if you don’t treat war and atrocity like a football game, reject American imperialism, and aren’t psychologically equipped to revel in the idea of “those people” burning in hell for eternity – you might be a godless liberal pinko commie.

    /sarcasm

  8. Thomathy, Holy Trinity of Conflation: Atheist-Secularist-Darwinist says

    Rorschach, she’s right. This movement doesn’t care about rights and it’s not very supportive. Individuals within the movement do care about rights and are supportive, but that’s not reflected in the movement. I wouldn’t hedge like you do in the idea that the movement (‘whatever that is’) is just ill-defined. No, it’s clear that on whole the atheist movement, as a movement, doesn’t care, even if members do.

    This crosses broad categories, from what rights and support Maryam is talking about, to the kinds of rights and support that are paramount to me, a gay person.

    For the matter, I’m not an atheist because of those first two points of Maryam’s too. I had no illusions about the kind of people who make up the most visible aspect of the atheist movement, or what the movement itself represents.

    This community here (freethoughtblogs) is niche. Extremely niche. It’s not representative of the movement on whole and the concerns of the movement on the top end, whatever that may be, are not rights and support. Perhaps that’s a failing of the membership, if indeed a majority of the members do care about various rights and support, but it’s a reality nonetheless.

  9. says

    Or are we ultimately only talking about the ‘Movement’ itself?

    I saw the list as how one functions within the “movement” not why someone is an atheist in the first place.

    I think essentially adding “apostate” to the group makes sense, since many former religious people (like myself) still have a lot of space in their heads for how being religious affected us and how it can have very negative consequences personally and socially.

    It’s not about being mad a God – but upset by various religious practices and dogmas.

  10. Thomathy, Holy Trinity of Conflation: Atheist-Secularist-Darwinist says

    Slothrop1905, they’re not atheists in any meaningful sense of the word if they believe a god exists. I don’t want to get definitional, but it’s antithetical to atheism to believe in god. Simply put, they’re not atheists. Also, there’s perfectly good terms for people who believe in a god and hate it or hate associated religion or all religion: anti-theist and anti-religious.

    Do you need the Venn Diagram to visualise how these overlap, but don’t necessarily share all the same membership?

  11. says

    This community here (freethoughtblogs) is niche. Extremely niche. It’s not representative of the movement on whole and the concerns of the movement on the top end, whatever that may be, are not rights and support.

    I disagree. I have been to quite a few atheist conferences, and I have commented on atheist blogs for a while now. This is in fact the top end, it’s not niche at all, it’s vocal, it’s intellectual, and it’s main concerns contain a wider definition of atheism, as a larger movement of people who aim for equality and tolerance in society way beyond the religion issue.

  12. slothrop1905 says

    Thomathy,I’ve read those opening lines that PZ quoted above a bunch of times now, and all I’m seeing is ‘I am an atheist [does not believe in the existence of God] because I don’t like what religious institutions do to people.’ That is argumentum ad consequentiam, pure and simple. If, as M.A. Melby suggested above, this is all about what role one takes within this particular movement of atheism, then it makes more sense. But it should be more clear, such as ‘I am militant in my atheism not because the atheist movement care about rights…’

  13. slothrop1905 says

    I hit the enter key right as I realized I had written that incorrectly. She should’ve said ‘I play the role of Militant within the Atheist community not because the atheist movement cares about rights…’.

  14. Martha says

    I can certainly see why Maryam wouldn’t want to be characterized as a “humanist atheist” as PZ defined the term. I wasn’t at all thrilled to see him characterize us as “fickle” or “pragmatic.” Indeed, I think that description betrays his scientific atheism bias. A commenter on that thread captured my views nicely by pointing out that it’s not as though atheist humanists will suddenly begin to believe in god when their fellow atheists resist the idea that social justice is important. We simply value dealing with human suffering more highly than any belief system about a given deity. That’s not wishy-washy. That’s setting priorities.

    My biggest problem with scientific atheism as I understand it is that it doesn’t pay sufficient attention to the fact that all human beings– not just the religious– are remarkably capable of cognitive dissonance. As far as I can tell, scientific atheists are very clear about the ways in which believing in God makes no sense. But they certainly are not very clear about a lot of other beliefs that make no sense at all, as much of the anti-feminist drivel makes clear. Why is it that tribal identity that leads to irrational sexist beliefs is tolerated, while tribal identity that leads to irrational belief in a deity is so awful? This makes no sense to me.

    I agree with PZ when he says the greatest weakness of the scientific atheists is smugness. That’s annoying when they’re right, but it’s infuriating when they’re wrong. I’m an academic scientist myself, and my experience suggests that white, male scientists in particular are particularly resistant to the notion of unconscious bias, no matter how many studies show that identical resumes are judged more positively if the name is John rather than Mary or Tyrone or Juanita. There seems to be this notion of “I’m a scientist; therefore, I am logical.” Thus, any suggestion otherwise threatens self-perception to such a degree that it must be dismissed. Does this sound like religion to anyone else?

    It seems to me that it is this strain of scientific atheists– not all of them, but a significant number– that leads to the impression that the movement doesn’t care about rights or support those who do. It’s hard to see the movement growing very much if it doesn’t address that perception– whether it reflects reality or not.

  15. says

    The reason I find ‘militant atheist’ an odd term is that I think of ‘atheist’ as merely referring to whether you believe in God or not. One could add an adjective to clarify exactly how strong your lack of belief is, but anything to do with your feelings on organised religion strikes me as irrelevant to your belief. As Thomathy* says, hating religion just makes you an anti-theist, which is not inconsistent with believing in God, just as it’s possibly to believe religions are great and do wonderful things for the world, while also regretfully deciding you don’t actually believe a God exists.

    *Holy Trinity of Conflation: Atheist-Secularist-Darwinist

  16. frankb says

    Atheism is an artificial category among a spectrum of artificial categories. Can a person who has never thought about God and doesn’t care be meaningfully grouped with a person who has carefully thought about the question and rejected the God hypothesis.

  17. Thomathy, Holy Trinity of Conflation: Atheist-Secularist-Darwinist says

    Rorschach, we’ll have to disagree. I don’t see representative organisations taking things much beyond the issue of religion at all in the world. I agree that Freethoughtblogs is vocal, intellectual and has much wider concern than issues of religion, but I don’t think freethoughtblogs is repesentational. Understand that by niche, I mean that Freethoughtblogs appeals to a certain subsection of the atheist movement. I don’t mean to say that the movement isn’t trying. It certainly is. This place here is an excellent example. Influential, even.

  18. says

    Understand that by niche, I mean that Freethoughtblogs appeals to a certain subsection of the atheist movement.

    It’s my subsection, fwiw. The one I want to meet and organise with. The Kirby/Blackford department is the niche here, I would like to think.

  19. Thomathy, Holy Trinity of Conflation: Atheist-Secularist-Darwinist says

    frankb, you’re terribly imprecise. Perhaps you mean that those people shouldn’t be included within atheistm? Or do you disagree that there are atheists who have carefully (How carefully suffices for you?) thought about and rejected the god hypothesis? If a person does not believe in god, I can hardly exclude them from atheism whatever their reasoning is. Besides which, it’s not impossible to get people to think critically about the question and come to the conclusion again through careful thought about it. It certainly helps if they already don’t believe for whatever reason.

    In any case, there clearly is a category of people who are atheists. You can’t define that out of existence or declare it artificial because you find the application of the term too broad. That’s silly and it sidesteps just about every important conversation about atheism and those who call themselves atheist.
    ____________

    Seriously, I don’t see a substantive difference between, ‘I play the role of …’ and ‘I am not an atheist …’, as Maryam posed the statement. I think you’re splitting hairs.

  20. Thomathy, Holy Trinity of Conflation: Atheist-Secularist-Darwinist says

    My comment makes more sense if you pretend that I addressed slothrop1905 below the break.

  21. Thomathy, Holy Trinity of Conflation: Atheist-Secularist-Darwinist says

    Rorschach, it’s my subsection too. It’s why I’m here and not somewhere else. It’s why I was never at Richard Dawkins and it’s why I left Rational Responders. This place is better. This place is what I like. This place represents what I want to see happen to the atheist movement.

  22. Thomathy, Holy Trinity of Conflation: Atheist-Secularist-Darwinist says

    Andrewryan, I don’t think it’s irrelevant at all. It’s important to modify atheism with other identifiers. It’s essentially meaningless otherwise. No one just ‘believes in god’. There’s all kinds of baggage that comes along with that. It’s the same with atheism. It’s not some isolated belief. It can be a simple statement, but it’s downright insulting of anyone to expect others not to expect something more behind it or alongside it. It’s terribly dishonest to believe that there isn’t, but cognitive dissonance knows no bounds*.

    *That is not an excuse, either.

  23. says

    @ Martha:

    My biggest problem with scientific atheism as I understand it is that it doesn’t pay sufficient attention to the fact that all human beings– not just the religious– are remarkably capable of cognitive dissonance. As far as I can tell, scientific atheists are very clear about the ways in which believing in God makes no sense. But they certainly are not very clear about a lot of other beliefs that make no sense at all, as much of the anti-feminist drivel makes clear. Why is it that tribal identity that leads to irrational sexist beliefs is tolerated, while tribal identity that leads to irrational belief in a deity is so awful? This makes no sense to me.

    QFT.

    That’s a very important point: not all irrational systems are religious, and they often masquerade behind bad science. (Evo psych, I’m looking at you…) And that should really bother the more scientifically minded of atheists, rationalists, skeptics and freethinkers!

  24. Amphiox says

    Can a person who has never thought about God and doesn’t care be meaningfully grouped with a person who has carefully thought about the question and rejected the God hypothesis.

    Sure they can. Just as they can be meaningfully grouped together into the category of “person”, they can be meaningfully grouped together into the category of “atheist”.

    What matters is how you delineate the boundaries of the definitions of the categories.

  25. slothrop1905 says

    Thomathy, I don’t think it’s splitting hairs at all, I think there’s a major difference that comes about in discussions with theist apologists all the time. Maryam says ‘I am an atheist because of my hatred of religion/Islam’. I am saying that it is more accurate to say ‘I take a militant stance in my atheism because of my hatred of religion/Islam’. I deal with theists every day that are greatly concerned with social justice, they see (whether correctly or not) their religion as being helpful to the world at large. To imply that you’re an atheist BECAUSE of the harm it does isn’t addressing the actual existence claim in the first place, it’s only addressing consequences of that belief in various origanizations, and it’s easily dismissed by those whose experience is different. The logical implication is that if there was no social harm, you might believe in God. I’m open to the possibility that I’m missing something here, otherwise I wouldn’t be bringing it up, I just don’t see how there’s not a logical error in stating ‘I believe X does not exist because belief in X causes Y behavior in people.’

  26. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    fwiw, I told my high-school religion teacher* once that I was an atheist, and he corrected me by saying that I was indifferent. I didn’t think at the time that those were mutually exclusive; I hadn’t thought about my atheism all that carefully, and I was certainly not married to it, and yet, I just didn’t believe.

    Now my atheism and I are married and have been for 22 years. We have 16 wonderful children.

    *Catholic school…this was actually one of my favorite teachers Of All Time. He was giving me shit for failing to examine what was in that context a rejection of belief. While he had a propensity for being strident and wrong, I always felt that he treated me like an adult. Which is more-or-less what I wanted when I was 16.

  27. says

    There seems to be this notion of “I’m a scientist; therefore, I am logical.” Thus, any suggestion otherwise threatens self-perception to such a degree that it must be dismissed.

    I suppose we dare not speak the name of the most obvious recent example of this? :)

    It is much easier to see other people’s faults than our own. I mean, if we saw those faults easily, we probably would have done something about it already. So the ones that remain elusive, unexamined, and sometimes even protected – are obviously the stubborn and most prevalent.

    When you get out of the realm of the infinitely controllable, quantifiable, and coherent – just a little bit – the modes of thinking that scientists are skilled at start to fail.

    I talked to a Chemist once who thought very strongly that all social sciences were pseudoscience. Of course, to me, Chemistry was just sort of a miss-mash of vague rules ripe with exceptions and approximations; a sort of ugly repulsive science where otherwise rationale men played with Flourine to show their virility.

    HA!

    I don’t think all atheist scientists are “science atheists” – whatever that is. Although they can be good for go-to people when it comes to defending science against religiously motivated or political attacks; science does not lead to atheism in the ways that many paint it.

    Methodological naturalism is not philosophical naturalism; just as much as being mad at God or religion is not the same as believing that there isn’t a God and religious beliefs are incorrect.

    Attempting to create categories to place things or people in – is a sort of pitfall in thinking. It’s a way that we organize our thoughts that lead to over-simplifications in thinking and odd sorts of identity politics and false dichotomies; and stupid fights about whether or not dinosaurs were birds.

    I think a better model would be to identify aspects or trends within atheism – and identify, for purposes of fun similar to doing OkCupid Quizzes – who exemplifies those aspects in significant amounts.

    In other words – don’t put the people in the categories, place the descriptors (that relate to how they *fit* in the “movement”) under the people.

  28. says

    Hmm… Maryam Namazie’s name is one ‘m to n’ letter change from being an anagram of “A Ryan – me, a Nazi?’

    Not just stupid, but wrong as well. Even if you exchange an m for an n, you’re still stuck with an extra m.

  29. Martha says

    @irenedelse #25:

    … not all irrational systems are religious, and they often masquerade behind bad science. (Evo psych, I’m looking at you…)

    Too right!

    @M. A. Melby # 29:

    I freely admit that I was responding as much to PZ’s earlier post about types of atheism as I was to the matter at hand. So I was probably a little unclear in separating my objection to PZ’s description of humanist atheists and trying to lay out my visceral concerns about science atheism, as PZ described it. I actually agree with PZ’s main point that different groups of atheists have different primary values, and that a lot of the in-fighting could be avoided if we all understood better what each of these groups brings to the table. I just didn’t like the way he described my brand of atheism.

    I also agree with you (and, I think, with PZ, too) that these categories of atheism should be taken as descriptive rather than proscriptive, and that they shouldn’t be taken too seriously. I found the category post useful in the same way that Myers-Briggs categories can be useful. They’re not scientific in that they don’t make testable hypotheses (at least not very rigorous ones). Nonetheless, they show us fundamental ways in which our styles and values can differ, they help us to see that our strengths and weaknesses are often opposite sides of the same coin, and they help us to see how those with strengths different from our own can complement our own skill set to achieve a complex goal.

    I completely agree with you that not all atheist scientists are science atheists, as I’m a scientist but by no means a science atheist. Indeed, I suspect that spending a quarter of a century as a woman scientist makes me a little intolerant of those who preach logic above all else. It’s ridiculously easy for anyone trained in the art of debate– academic or otherwise– to spot flaws in an argument or an idea. It’s ridiculously hard to come up with a really creative idea or explanation that fits the data. The culture of science places too much emphasis on the easy part and doesn’t reward building enough. The same is true of our larger culture.

    Of course, debate can be useful as a way to make one refine one’s arguments, to articulate oneself more clearly. That’s the main reason I have a tendency to provoke a science atheist friend into arguments about his views– I know I disagree with him at some level, but I haven’t fully articulated for myself exactly how I disagree. Reading FTB regularly over the last couple months has helped me refine my arguments, but I wouldn’t say I’m there yet. I love that kind of debate for sport, whether it’s about science or other issues.

    On the other hand, debate can also be sport for showing off how clever one is with no useful purpose. Science atheists– not all of them, but a very vocal subset– seem to relish this kind of argument. That’s the part of the smugness that PZ describes as the flaw of science atheists. I have to work very hard not to dismiss the arguments of a person playing that game, as my knee-jerk assumption is that they wouldn’t need to play games to demonstrate their intelligence if they had anything useful to say. I see this a lot in the hyper-skeptics, and it drives me nuts. All of us need to be open to the possibility– certainty, even– that we’re flat-out wrong sometimes.

    As an example of being spectacularly wrong, I love your fluorine chemist and his views toward social scientists. Paul Krugman once had a great description of this phenomenon in a blog post about Richard Muller, the physicist who had been a global warming skeptic:

    … [He] seems to have had different motivations from many of the professional climate skeptics. He basically appears to have suffered from nothing more than characteristic physicist arrogance, the belief that people in lesser sciences just don’t know what they’re doing. (Economists experience this all the time, but we make up for it by being equally condescending to sociologists.) To his credit, he went and tried to do better — and is now being honest in revealing that what he got was pretty much the same as the results of previous research.

    http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/21/more-people-who-cant-handle-the-truth/

  30. Thomathy, Holy Trinity of Conflation: Atheist-Secularist-Darwinist says

    slothrop1905, it’s explained by assuming (not generously either unless you’re extraordinarily pedantic and not used to giving the benefit of the doubt) that Maryam is conflating the use of atheist with being an atheist and being part of the atheist community.

    We can take it on face value that Maryam is an atheist. We also know that she came to her atheism as a result of ‘battles against the Islamic Republic of Iran and Islamism’. It can be safely assumed that when she says, ‘I am an atheist not because the atheist movement cares about rights (it doesn’t) or has been overly supportive (which it hasn’t) but because I despise religion and Islam,’ she does not mean to confuse that latter statement. After all, she is talking about the atheist movement in the first sentence.

    Anyhow, I suppose if you’re concerned about sounding right to apologists, she could have been clearer. I just don’t really see that it’s a problem in this context, where she’s talking to other atheists. I would hardly consider it a problem in your context either, but I don’t care what incorrect things theist apologists think. I see that you do, but in that case you can be the one precise in xis wording when confronting them.

  31. madscientist says

    Just the past week, adherents of this “religion of peace and love”, as some like to call it, lynched a man because he supposedly tore pages out of a copy of their supposedly holy book. It reminds me of the ancient MAD spoof of “The Rifleman” – ain’t no man mo’ peaceful than a dead one. Of course, that was only one of the numerous evils done in the name of religion in the past week which made it to the news.

  32. frankb says

    PZ is not at all fond of the dictionary atheist concept which seems to me to suggest that interacting with others (particularly theists) would drive the atheist mind down certain avenues of thought. There is a wide variety of ideas about what constitutes atheism, some simple and some complex. I agree that the term ‘atheist’ is as broad and encompassing as the term “person’, but that might make it hard for people to generalize about atheism.

  33. says

    I copy/paste a couple of posts I just made on Maryam’s blog

    “My first thought on reading PZ’s categorisation of atheists was that it was a pretty effective rebuttal of claims from some quarters that he basically wanted all atheists to be just like him.

    And valuable for that.

    I have also, on occasion, described myself as a militant atheist.

    Though I usually try, in my now pretty long discussion board history, to try to respect the person I am arguing against, if not their beliefs, and engage them in conversation under the presumption that beliefs can change.

    Which sometimes they do – a significant number of my internet friends and allies were fundamentalist Christians at some point in their lives, sometimes decades of their lives.

    Sometimes, though, in the course of discussion, respect for the person is lost.

    Thinking about it now, though, I’m prepared to adopt an agreement to differ with what I might term secular religious people, that is to say those who don’t seek to impose by law, or by violence, their religious views on dissenters.

    As regards to those who do wish to impose their views by force of law or violence, though, be they Christian, Muslim or whatever, then staunch opposition seems to me the only stance to take.

    In this day and age, while there are Christians who do wish to impose their views, it seems more prevalent in political Islam.

    And, as such, opposition seems to be the only stance as a secularist, leave alone as an atheist, and I regard myself as both.”

    “Oh, and I’ve just looked at Pharyngula to see PZ’s response.

    Which I think fair enough.”

    David B

  34. steeeve says

    Andrewryan is an Anagram of Aryan nerd —-with an extra “w” for “wow” can’t believe nobody noticed!!! Coincidence, or is someone laughing right now?